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Volume 23, Issue9November 2010

Presidential Column

Mahzarin R. Banaji
Mahzarin R. Banaji
Harvard University
APS President 2010 - 2011
All columns

In this Issue:
Vying for the Prize

About the Observer

Published 6 times per year by the Association for Psychological Science, the Observer educates and informs on matters affecting the research, academic, and applied disciplines of psychology; promotes the scientific values of APS members; reports on issues of international interest to the psychological science community; and provides a vehicle for the dissemination on information about APS.

APS members receive online and print subscriptions to the Observer, including the online archive going back to 1988. The print edition is a member-only benefit.

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Up Front


  • Vying for the Prize

    Like it or not, competition is a fact of life, the driving force behind evolution, and an intrinsic part of the human experience. Any time two or more parties, whether they are individuals, sports teams, corporate groups, political parties, or countries, strive to attain a goal that cannot be shared, competition will occur. The goal can be concrete (survival, being hired, winning a soccer match, becoming a millionaire) or more ephemeral (being beautiful, gaining prestige), but it usually requires an investment of energy and resources. For example, in a rugby match, two teams compete to score the most points and win a trophy (a concrete goal) but winning also means attaining the more elusive goals of increased pride, prestige, and satisfaction at having bettered an opponent. Comparison and Competition “There exists, in the human organism, a drive to evaluate his opinions and abilities” wrote Leon Festinger in his 1954 “A Theory of Social Comparison Process,” a landmark publication in social psychology. Festinger hypothesized that people evaluate their own abilities and opinions by comparing them to the abilities and opinions of others.

  • The Evolution of Childhood

    Michael Lamb has done us the great favor of reading and reviewing a major work by Melvin Konner The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind. As a field we have paid scarce attention to evolution. A physical anthropologist has analyzed the evolutionary origins of Homo sapiens with special focus on our longer dependence on caregivers after birth, and has argued that this may explain the unique cognitive abilities, emotional capacities, and social bonds of our species. - Mahzarin R. Banaji APS President   Contemporary behavioral scientists, including psychologists, seldom write “big” inclusive books that synthesize a broad, multidisciplinary range of literature in scholarly detail. More commonly, we tend to rely on secondary sources to provide the context within which our arguments might be viewed, especially if the target audience includes nonspecialists in our field. However, the “broader context” often does not extend much beyond related subdisciplines or fields of study. For that reason, we cannot fail to be impressed when a distinguished scholar takes on a topic as broad as the evolution of childhood.

APS Spotlight


  • Personality Pathology in DSM-5

    Clinical psychologists are increasingly calling for the discipline to become more empirically guided and less dependent on traditional clinical theories and expertise. This movement toward a clinical science model has already achieved a number of well-publicized goals, including (a) the establishment of clinical science graduate programs and internships, which comprise the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science (APCS) membership, (b) the formation of the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) to evaluate and accredit clinical science training programs, and (c) the promotion of empirically supported treatments for many mental disorders. These advances highlight the shift that clinical psychology is undergoing as it becomes increasingly integrated with the broader field of psychological science.

Practice


  • Challenging Your Assumptions

    Applied learning as a pedagogical technique has taken higher education by storm, and psychology is no exception. Applied learning programs are credit-bearing student-learning experiences that occur outside of the classroom, such as internships/practica, service-learning, independent research projects, and study away from campus. Effective applied learning experiences ground students’ understanding of psychological concepts in real-world experience. On our campus, this pedagogy has made its way into our strategic plan, and having observed the number of presentations and posters devoted to these teaching tools at teaching conferences, we have reason to believe we are not alone. This type of off-campus student activity in internships, service, and research is exciting, but comes with additional risk.

More From This Issue


  • APS Teaching Fund Small Grants Program

    The APS Fund for Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science, established through the generous support of a $1,000,000 endowment from The David & Carol Myers Foundation, supports activities that enhance education and communication in the scientific and academic sectors in psychology. The Fund’s Small Grants Program provides seed support of up to $5,000 for projects aimed at strengthening the teaching enterprise in psychology in the United States and abroad. Here are brief descriptions of some of the recent Small Grants Program projects. PsychRadio Grantee: Christopher A.

  • U.S. Senate FY 2011 Excerpts of Appropriations Report

    NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH National Cancer Institute Behavioral Research on Tobacco Control — The Committee notes that NCI’s research on smoking cessation, smokeless tobacco and collaborations with NIDA, NICHD, and NHLBI are critical to building knowledge to reduce the use of tobacco by adolescents. The Committee also believes that behavioral science should facilitate FDA regulation of tobacco, including consumer perceptions, development of warning labels, product development and response, risk communication, and cultural effects, and recommends that the NCI support such research. [p.

  • Damasio Awarded 2010 Honda Prize

    Antonio Damasio researches the role of emotion in behavior. APS Fellow Antonio Damasio has received the 2010 Honda Prize, an international prize awarded each year to a distinguished scholar working in the fields of biology and technology. Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, researches the role of emotion in behavior, particularly in decision making.

  • One Never Forgets a Face

    Our ability to recognize faces is something we take for granted, but it is actually quite an extraordinary talent, considering the thousands of people we can instantly identify, ranging from our parents to “the guy who was in a few episodes of that TV show I like.” The structures in the brain that are responsible for our mental “facebook” are still somewhat mysterious, and when these structures are damaged, treatment, if at all possible, can be something of a guessing game. Leslie G.

  • Casting a Wide Oppnet

    One notable advocacy success story is the basic behavioral science funding initiative at NIH, the NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network, or OppNet (www.oppnet.nih.gov/index.asp), which was launched one year ago. (For the full story of how ten years of effort by APS resulted in OppNet, go to www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer .

  • Senate Supports Behavioral Science in 2011

    Although the US mid-term election results are getting most of the attention in Washington and elsewhere, APS remains focused on the day-to-day business of Congress and federal funding agencies.   Every year, Congressional appropriations committees decide the budgets for federal research agencies, including the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), a $30-billion agency that reportedly supports $3.5 billion in behavioral science research.1 As part of the process, the committees issue detailed companion reports expressing Congressional priorities and the intent behind the numbers in the agency budgets.

  • Keith Stanovich Wins Grawemeyer Award in Education

    Keith Stanovich, APS Fellow and Professor of Human Development and Applied Psychology at the University of Toronto, is the 2010 Grawemeyer Award Winner in the field of Education. He received this prestigious honor for his recently published book What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought (Yale University Press, 2009). The Grawemeyer Awards are five annual prizes given in the fields of music, political science, psychology, education, and religion. H. Charles Grawemeyer was an industrialist, entrepreneur, astute investor, and philanthropist who created the Grawemeyer Awards at the University of Louisville in 1984.

  • Need a Break? Depends on Your Concept of Willpower

    Do you ever find yourself burning the candle at both ends? Friends may tell you to slow down or take a break but new findings, published in Psychological Science, challenge the long-held theory that willpower is a limited resource that needs to be replenished by rest. The Stanford team of Veronika Job, Carol Dweck and Greg Walton suggest the urge to refresh is all in your head. They’ve found that a person’s mindset and personal beliefs about willpower determine how long and how well they’ll be able to work on a tough mental exercise. The researchers designed a series of four experiments to test and manipulate Stanford students’ beliefs about willpower.

  • Video Gaming Prepares the Brain for Bigger Tasks

    Playing video games for hours on end may develop skills in childhood that could be useful when training to be, for example, a laparoscopic surgeon, a new study shows. The reorganization of the brain’s cortical network in young men who have significant experience playing video games may give these individuals an advantage not only in playing the games but also in performing other tasks that require visuomotor skills, according to findings published in the October 2010 issue of Cortex.